A few months ago, my neighbours who happen to be Malaysian Muslims knocked on our door to give us a couple of bowls of celebratory dishes they had made for Eid. Both dishes contained halal meat. I was going to accept them just out of sheer politeness, but I knew in my heart she would ask how we found them and I would not be able to lie, and you know how one little white lie can grow. So I was upfront and honest and told her it was very kind of her, but I could not accept either dishes as we were both primarily vegetarian. She was understanding and nodded politely. During our polite conversation about food in general, I did tell her that the only Indonesian and Malay cuisine I had ever tried was Nasi Goreng.
Anyway, speaking to her again this weekend got me thinking about Malay cuisine. I thought it was time for me to try something different. A long while ago, I remembered seeing a recipe for 'Malaysian Black Pepper Crab' and thinking to myself, I could substitute the mud crabs for 'vegetarian prawns' (made from seaweed extract, gluten wheat, salt and spices). But today I decided on firm tofu. The original recipe has a few ingredients I don’t have to hand such as salted soy beans. Ordinarily I’d be happy to pick up ingredient but I am trying my utmost to use what I have at home, so I omitted this from the recipe as well dried prawns. My Malaysian neighbour would so not approve of this omission, as dried prawns are an essential seasoning ingredient in most Malay dishes. I also reduced the chillies, and that's unusual for me, but even with my high chilli tolerance levels I don’t think I could handle 10 – 12 red birds eyes chilli. No way. Finally, I substituted the fresh curry leaves with a handful of fresh coriander leaves. I know what your thinking - with all these changes to the recipe its hardly Malaysian - well let's just say its Malaysian cuisine inspired.
This 'Black Pepper Tofu' dish was really delicious: rich and intense in flavour. I don't know what it was about it, but the combination of red chilli and black pepper was almost addictive. The tofu tastes gorgeous too, with the crisp outer skin and soft inside. Oh I wish I had taken a photograph of the shallots and red chillies whilst they were being sauteed, as the ingredients in the pan were very different in colour up until the soy sauce, oyster sauce and black pepper went in, instantly turning the entire contents in the pan ink black
Malaysian Black Pepper Tofu
Serves 2 - 3
Oil for deep frying
Cornflour for coating
2 tablespoons butter
4 shallots, thinly sliced
2 fat cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons black pepper, freshly ground
5 - 6 red birds-eye chilies, chopped
2 tablespoons black soy sauce
1 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons vegetarian oyster sauce
Handful of fresh coriander, stalks removed
MethodFirst slice the tofu horizontally so you have two pieces, then chop into cubes. Toss them in cornflour, shaking off the excess. In a wide frying pan, pour in enough vegetable oil to come the sides of the pan, and bring up to frying heat. Fry the tofu in batches in the oil, turning now and again so that they are golden all around, and have a thin crust, transfer to a paper towel.
In another pan, melt butter and put in shallots, garlic, red chilli slices. Saute till soft, then add the sauces, sugar, black pepper and heat for a couple of minutes, before gently stirring in the tofu pieces and the coriander. Cook for a minutes or so for the tofu to warm through. Serve immediately with plain white rice. Recipe adapted from RasaMalaysia via Authentic Recipes from Malaysia